A native of the now defunct Czechoslovakia, Milos Forman was raised by foster parents and attended film school in Prague in the 1950s, where he quickly became recognised as a rebellious filmmaker. He migrated across the pond in the 1960s, as his work was deemed too satirical and subversive for the censorship in his home nation. The country was under firm Soviet grip (and many Russian artists were migrating too).
Milos Forman will always be best remembered for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a tragic comedy about mental sanity and repression in an institution, starring Jack Nicholson. He won five Oscars – including Best Director and Best Picture – for the English language film in 1975. He became firmly established as the voice of the marginalised and subversive in Hollywood, demonstrating that the Academy was prepared to embrace a countercultural gaze.
His next big achievement came nine years later with Amadeus (1984), a period drama adapted from a stage play by Peter Shaffer. The film is a fictionalised biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and his music is heard ostensibly and extensively throughout the entire film. The story also focuses on Italian composer Antonio Salieri, the musician’s biggest nemesis. The film received 11 Academy Awards (including Best Picture), as well as various Baftas and Golden Globes. It was ranked 53th in the American Film Institute top 100 films of all times.
The dirtiest film of his career, however, came a few years earlier. In 1979, Milos Forman authored the musical anti-war drama Hair, which was based on the eponymous Broadway musical play. It follows the footsteps of a Vietnam War draftee who mingles with anti-war hippies donning plush and fanciful clothes and long hairdos (hence the film title). That’s how he experiments with marijuana, LSD, free love and various drafts of sexuality. The film established a compelling and urgent dialogue between the peace movement and the war machine that prevailed at the time.